While digital technologies have advanced meaningfully in the last decade, they have been most beneficial for a restricted ecosystem—businesses that run an aggregator or marketplace model. The new decade will need “broader productivity and cross-sectoral impact of digital technologies,” said Satya Nadella, chief executive officer of Microsoft, while speaking at the Microsoft Future Decoded–CEO Summit in Mumbai on Monday.

Nadella, chief of one of the world’s leading tech companies based in Redmond, U.S., was speaking to a banquet full of India’s leading company executives, technology analysts, and the media during his visit to India, which coincides with U.S. president Donald Trump’s trip to India.

“There is no question that the last decade was tremendous in terms of impact of the mobile revolution, consumer interest changed lives. But there is one criticism that it was pretty narrow. Consumer economy isn’t the only economy,” Nadella said. “The profit derived from all that progress was even more limited. The business models that were most successful were aggregators and marketplaces. In the next 10 years, we need broader productivity, broader cross-sectoral impact of digital technology.” Nadella said. Every sector, industry, and product was getting embedded with computing, he added.

In the tech-enabled event, where the verbal observations of speakers got transcribed real-time on a giant LED backdrop on stage, Nadella outlined the tectonic shifts taking place in an increasingly digital world and how India can “ride this wave to build tech intensity.”

The 52-year-old India-born American business leader observed that companies can’t be “stuck reinventing the wheel” and needed to build out their own technological capabilities swiftly. “Companies will never be cool by association. Just because you do a press release with us, you’re not really cool. You have to build your own tech capability and that will be one of the most defining things in the next decade,” Nadella said.

The $1.35-trillion tech company (by market capitalisation), the second most valued in the world after Apple, has been aggressively wooing Indian enterprises—across the public and private sectors and across large enterprises, and small and medium businesses (SMBs)—to adopt various technology solutions offered by Microsoft. Under Nadella’s leadership, Microsoft, best known for its Windows operating system, came also to be known for new-age solutions like its cloud platform Azure and workplace productivity tool Office 365. His current India visit underscores the importance that Microsoft places on the Indian market, already one of the largest data and mobile markets in the world with 560 million internet users and 460 million smartphone users.

Highlighting the importance of democratised digital access for a more diversified ecosystem, Nadella, in his keynote address, said that software development is no longer the prerogative of the tech industry alone. He said that 70% of the new jobs being created for software engineers was outside the tech industry and making them productive wasn’t just a side business for Microsoft.

Through tools such as Visual Studio (which even Facebook uses for app development) GitHub, an open-source app development tool, which Microsoft acquired in 2018, Microsoft wants to enable and empower professionals of different hues marry their domain expertise with the ability to write code. Nadella stated that India had the second largest pool of developers after the U.S. and that he was excited about the prospects of GitHub which recently launched a hub in India.

While Nadella spoke of various branches of digital technology—like Internet of things, data analytics, cloud computing, and others—he peppered his talk with examples of how Microsoft has been working with Indian companies to make their businesses more efficient. Nadella let on that cab aggregator Ola may soon use the technology from one of Microsoft’s pilot projects in India, which uses sensors and the rear and front cameras of a phone to assess how safely a car is being driven. Ola, Nadella said, might use this technology to screen drivers and lease out cars to those considered safe.

Mukesh Ambani, chairman, RIL (Left) and Satya Nadella during a fireside chat
Mukesh Ambani, chairman, RIL (Left) and Satya Nadella during a fireside chat
Image : Microsoft

After ending his keynote, Nadella was joined on stage by Mukesh Ambani, Asia’s richest billionaire and chairman, Reliance Industries Ltd (RIL). RIL’s wireless broadband and digital services arm, Reliance Jio Infocomm (Jio) and Microsoft entered into a partnership last year to jointly build data centres in India and make cutting-edge cloud services available to enterprises, especially Indian SMBs, at reasonable prices.

Ambani began a fireside chat with Nadella by congratulating the latter on his achievements at Microsoft and said that his inspiring leadership of the global multinational company was a matter of pride for Indians. “What I admire and what I have learnt from your leadership style is if you have empathy, if you rely on partnerships, if you build trust and relationships, if you think about every mistake as a learning opportunity, if you believe it is not products or profit but people and their continuous reinvention of capabilities (that) is the strength of an organisation,”Ambani said.

The RIL chairman, who was accompanied by his daughter Isha, who is a director on the board of Jio and Reliance Retail, said that he was glad to note that Microsoft had engaged with India on a scale larger than what many other global multinational had. “We are very excited about the partnership that Jio and Microsoft will have and that will be the defining partnership of this decade,” Ambani said.

Speaking about the power of technology and how it was transforming India, Ambani said that president Trump, during his current visit to India, would see a very different India than what his predecessors Barack Obama, Bill Clinton, and James Carter had seen. He also highlighted how the base of broadband wireless users in India had increased, as data prices rapidly dropped. Jio and Microsoft’s partnership, Ambani said, would help the Indian economy “pole-vault” by encouraging SMBs—who had the mindset but not the tool set—to adopt the latest digital technology. “I believe every Indian and every entrepreneur has the potential to be the next Dhirubhai Ambani (Ambani’s late father and RIL’s founder) or the next Bill Gates (Microsoft’s co-founder),” Ambani concluded.

Microsoft also launched an India-focussed initiative called 100X100X100 on Monday. The program seeks to provide a fillip to startups that offer software as a service (SaaS) to B2B (business-to-business) clients. As a part of this, Microsoft will bring together 100 companies that will commit $100,000 each for enterprise-ready solutions from 100 such startups.

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